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In my world there is a human nomadic desert tribe. They have a long-standing custom of refraining from defecating on their journeys. They wait until they reach an oasis.

This is important to the structure of my world but I need a reason for them to do this. Can anyone help?

P.S. There is no religious element to this behaviour - it has to be for a practical reason.

Thank you.


I use the term anal retentive because the tribe have trained themselves to retain fecal matter in their anuses in addition to the rectum as is normal. This allows the storage of a larger volume. In my 'alternate history' (see tag), the phrase was stolen by Freud when he made a reference to this tribe.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Feb 17 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ This could actually be detrimental to them, waiting until you are right next to your only water source ot release waste could lead to contamination. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 18 at 15:40

A man in England refused to defecate for 40 days

The police believe he did this because he was arrested on drug charges and defecating would prove their point. This demonstrates that there can be practical reasons for training oneself to avoid defecation. So, what practical reasons can we come up with?

  • Wind covers tracks, but it doesn't necessarily cover scat — and the nomadic tribe does not want to be tracked.

  • The journey is very restrictive on food supply, so the feces is retained to allow the body to extract every possible mote of nutrition.

  • The journey requires the tribe to travel quickly in single file (e.g., through rocky defiles that are prone to flash floods). As a courtesy to those behind them, the tribe has learned to hold it until they are in a place they can safely stop and build latrines.

  • Most animals avoid human feces, but to paraphrase one of the Jurassic Park movies, there's one really big predator that's drawn to it.

  • Back in the good old days, we derived nitrates from urine for gunpowder. Perhaps there is a chemical found in their feces that is useful to them, meaning that holding it until it can be easily gathered and processed (something you can't really do while you're on the road) would be useful. (Maybe rendering the feces into a tar used to coat animal hooves to protect them during the journey or into a high-potency poison with which to tip arrows that they are naturally immune to, it being their feces and all.)

  • Finally (and I'm stretching for this one), they travel with their herds of food animals which, like goats, will eat anything — including the tribe's poisonous feces. So they hold it to better control its disposal rather than risk the herds.


They only do it in oasises because that's where life is. Any feces in the desert aren't giving much back to the cycle of life. At the oasis though it will fertilize the soil. They do it consciously.


Desert and long journeys where taking a dump is dangerous - look up Iraq:

Simple as that, it was dangerous to use the bathroom in convoys or any other national security or otherwise dangerous mission - leading to some (May not be work safe, language) interesting problems with our "movements". I leave why its dangerous (could be animals or enemies) but the point is the oasis could be guarded and safe - allowing for "business" to be taken care of.

As to how those of us in the military held it?

  1. Not eating huge amounts of food
  2. Make what you do eat "binding"
  3. Don't drink enough to combat dehydration and create urine

It was a desert and supply lines did not always follow so 1 happened and 3 was a given. As to 2...MREs were very binding so that was only a problem later when you got real food.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is the sort of situation that caused British tanks to always have tea making facilities on board, for gods sake install a toilet. They don't take up that much space. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 17 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ at least we have sports drink bottles @Separatrix ;) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Feb 17 at 22:14

Just tweak their physiology so something about doing it on the journey makes things dangerous.

Or it takes too much time.

Or maybe it's because of predators tracking them. Things are safer in the oasis.

Or it's a hygiene issue. They have to wait until they're someplace with more water. This could be more critical for them than for actual humans.

Socially, it can be severe privacy norms.


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